Powerful Philadelphia union boss, council member go on trial

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Powerful Philadelphia labor leader Johnny “Doc” Dougherty went on trial Monday in a City Hall corruption case that accuses him of keeping a City Council member on the union payroll to push his agenda.

Dougherty, 61, who has steered more than $30 million in union funds to political candidates, faces a later extortion trial over other union activities. He expressed confidence that he would clear his name as he arrived for jury selection Monday at the federal courthouse, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“I have had zero crimes,” Dougherty said outside the courthouse, making a zero with his hand for emphasis. “So this is a relief. I can’t wait to get in and get this done.”

Dougherty had been in the FBI’s sights for years before the 2019 indictment charged him with more than 100 crimes, including keeping City Council member Bobby Henon in a $70,000-a-year union job while he worked full time in the $140,000-a-year City Council post.

Dougherty has held a tight grip on construction jobs in the Philadelphia region during more than two decades at the helm of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which has nearly 5,000 members. He also leads the city’s Buildings Trades Council, an umbrella group of local unions with 70,000 members.

As an example, according to the indictment, Dougherty pressed Comcast Corp. to steer $2 million worth of electrical work to a friend as the media giant negotiated the renewal of the city’s 15-year cable lease; pressured Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to have union workers install MRI machines; and had Henon investigate a towing company that seized Dougherty’s car.

The union mostly backs Democratic candidates, but has also supported Republicans at times.

Henon, a Democrat and former union electrician, has remained on the City Council since the 2019 indictment. Both he and Dougherty face 13 counts, including conspiracy and honest services fraud, and a maximum 20-year sentence on the most serious charge. Both have pleaded not guilty and remain free on bond.

Federal prosecutors say Dougherty “put his own self-interests over that of the membership.”

However, defense lawyer Henry E. Hockeimer, in a 2019 statement, said Dougherty has put all of his energy into the union and called it “preposterous” to say he tried to defraud it.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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